Quick and easy-to-do strategies to promote online engagement

I went back to school.

This seems somewhat odd at first, given that I’ve been in school since I was 5, traveling an academic path that went from K12 to college to grad school to postdoc to faculty member. But I recently had occasion to present talk to the principal and vice principals at my kids’ school. I was so nervous to be back in that context! I had to go to the principal’s (virtual) office!

In our school district, spring and fall (and now winter) quarters have been taught remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The principals helpfully held a meeting to speak with parents about how their kids are learning in these strange and stressful times. One message came out loud and clear: students and teachers are overwhelmed and overworked. None of them are prepared to work in a remote environment.

A fundamental component of teaching is the assessment feedback loop. You teach something, and then you see how well students understand it, and then you use that understanding to help the students achieve even deeper dexterity with the topic. But when teachers are falling behind on their grading, and when they can’t see students’ faces because cameras are all off, and when students aren’t submitting homework because they’re overwhelmed, and when chat is being used as a social tool instead of a learning one (long story—and big mistake on the part of the district), the assessment feedback loop breaks.

When teachers are in the classroom talking to students, moving around the room and fielding questions while students work, and constantly checking in with them, they are assessing student learn. It’s a critical part of the K12 assessment feedback loop. I wanted to talk to the principals about strategies that the might help teachers collect these same kind of data, but in a remote context.

Here are some of the strategies I mentioned:

Use the chat and collaborative documents like google docs.

  • Expect all of the students to answer questions, and immediately gauge where they re

Continue with classic interactive learning strategies like the jigsaw.

  • Have the breakout rooms take notes in google docs. Each group could have their own doc, or there could be one doc with students writing in different sections. I’ve used both strategies, depending on context.

Minute paper are tried and true.

  • Ask students what they understand, and what they’re confused about. They can write for a minute. This could be in chat, a google doc, and or a bulletin board app like Padlet.

Try collaborative notetaking.

  • I’ve done this with—you guessed it—google docs, but I’m curious what it’s like to use a mindmapping app like Coggle.

And it turns out principals are pretty cool. I had great fun talking to the team, and I’m reminded once again that my kids are in good hands.

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